When a Nurse Gets COVID: Her Tough Road Back

MONDAY, July 20, 2020 (HealthDay News) — Nurse case manager Sharon Tapp recalls laying in a Bethesda, Md., hospital bed, feverishly ill from COVID-19, asking for a bedpan.

Then, in what seemed to be the very next moment, she found herself in another bed in an unfamiliar room at what seemed to be a different hospital, surrounded by people she didn’t know.

“It was like, why am I here? I woke up and I was like, Johns Hopkins? I didn’t come here,” Tapp, 60, said in a voice still raspy from a healing tracheotomy. “I was looking around at all the people, and I was like, why am I here?”

Tapp was there because she’d just survived a months-long battle with COVID-19, a fight that required doctors to put her in a medically induced coma after flying her by helicopter to Johns Hopkins Hospital in Baltimore.

Tapp’s illness was so severe that at one point she needed a heart bypass machine to provide oxygen to her disease-battered body, said Dr. Alba Azola, a physical medicine and rehabilitation resident at Hopkins.

“It’s basically the bypass machine they use for open heart surgery,” Azola said. “They have to circulate the blood outside your body to oxygenate it because your lungs are not capable of oxygenating your blood.”

Tapp spent a month on the machine, “which is really unheard of. It’s a really long time,” Azola said.

“COVID pneumonia completely prevented her lungs from being able to provide oxygen,” Azola said. “The inflammation of her lungs was such that she could not oxygenate her blood through her lungs.”

Tapp and Dr. Azola on hospital discharge day

Tapp’s ordeal started in early March, while she was on the job at Veterans Affairs Medical Center in Washington, D.C.

She suspects she contracted COVID-19 from a patient with whom she spent about 10 minutes “delivering my spiel” about her role in his medical care. Soon afterward, the patient was transferred to an isolation room and tested positive for coronavirus.

About two weeks later, on March 18, Tapp started experiencing fatigue, weakness, chest pain, a high temperature and headache. Her local urgent care center tested her for COVID-19 and told her to quarantine for 14 days at her home in Lanham, Md., based on her flu-like symptoms.

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